Erin Lenz told about 400 Idaho Education Association colleagues in a speech Friday in Boise that hard work, persistence, collegiality and union solidarity are key to the struggles faced by Idaho teachers and their students.
"As educators, we are faced with a daunting task," Lenz said in prepared remarks made available on the IEA website. "How do we continue to teach children with all the energy and passion needed and fight those who attack our profession?
"How can we be innovative in meeting the challenges of 21st Century classrooms when some of education’s stakeholders refuse to acknowledge our voices? What will we do to combat the corrosive discouragement amongst teachers that has eaten away at morale and has driven some to leave the profession? I wish these problems were easy to solve but there isn’t a simple solution. It will take hard work and perseverance to overcome them."
Lenz is a nominee for national teacher of the year, an award to be announced Tuesday in the Rose Garden at the White House.
Lenz, who will celebrate her 35th wedding anniversary in June, came late to teaching. She worked four years as a paraprofessional and the last 11 years as a teacher. She said her husband, a union member for 35 years, earned wages and benefits that "gave us the solid foundation we needed to raise a family."
"For decades, union members have been the backbone of America," Lenz continued. "From Detroit to Hollywood to Pittsburgh to Boise, it has been union members who have kept us safe, responded to our emergencies, delivered the mail, assembled the automobiles, erected the buildings, built our dams, roads and bridges, and taught America’s children. I have witnessed firsthand the benefits of belonging to a strong union. My family is an example of what unions have done for our nation. In fact, I would not have attended college to become a teacher without my husband’s ability to provide for our family as a result of being paid a fair living wage."
Lenz teaches at Coeur d'Alene's Winton Elementary School and spoke of her passion for working with beginning and struggling readers.
"For those of you who work with struggling readers, you understand how heartbreaking it is to work with children who with each passing year become more defeated when their efforts to read go unrewarded," Lenz said. "Witnessing this heartbreak has been a driving force for me as a teacher."
The 120th delegate assembly of the Idaho Education Association continues Saturday at the Boise Centre.
The group also will honor two Boise parents -- Maria Greeley and Mike Lanza -- who helped found Idaho Parents and Teachers Together. Last year, the group joined with the IEA to collect signatures to put three referendums repealing the 2011 "Students Come First" school reform laws on the Nov. 6 ballot for possible repeal. Greeley also will be honored for her efforts to help pass a levy in the Boise School District in March.
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